Consolidating Many services into one Integration

With New Years coming, I’m seizing the day in November to make big changes and prepare for more growth.

A couple years back, I realized I was not scalable by myself. I started following a goal to cycle through 4 steps:

  1. Automate (what can be automated)
  2. Delegate (what can be delegated)
  3. Do (the biggest priorities that are left or the things that fit next)
  4. Re-evaluate and repeat

This cycle enabled me to look at my business and the things I do in a new light. Instead of constantly asking (and stressing) ‘How am I ever going to do this?’

I started asking ‘How is this going to get done?’

This process and that better question reduced anxiety and enabled me to have one of my best years in business in several years, despite some personal challenges with the unexpected loss of my father and my aunt.

Lots of Automation; Lots of new services

I jumped in with gusto trying to find anything that needed doing a way of getting done or partly done through automation. I already used a service called Freshbooks (picked up in 2010). It had liberated me from Quickbooks years earlier and sped up my ability to create invoices, perform time tracking and billing and more. But nine years later the story there was changing.

I found new ways to automate client coaching and assessment scheduling with a combination of Calendly, Google Calendar and Stripe. I had several WordPress plugins managing social media posts from my site. These were good, but they did not match my past efforts using a comprehensive social media management and scheduling system like CoSchedule. (Coschedule’s price points did not suit the size of my agency. It started at $20, went to $40, 80, 50 & 60, it was bouncing all over.)

I used Zoom for meetings and this was connected to Calendly and Google suite email and calendar. But I couldn’t afford the Webinar service all the time. $$$

I had MailChimp (limping through its paces) for my email newsletter and list development. I have many clients that get more out of MailChimp than I do personally. This speaks more to me than to it. I bounce in and out of my client’s  website systems all day long. This becomes an obstacle from working in my own systems.

I used Raven SEO for SEO monitoring, keyword tracking, analysis and reporting. Like Coschedule, it seemed like the price point wasn’t really a fit, but this wasn’t fair to Raven. The reality was that my agency was in a chicken and egg situation with both this and Coschedule. When we were growing into new projects and had client budget for these tools, they fit great. As some projects came to their natural conclusion, the pricing left gaps and made it feel challenging to transition in replacement projects and maintain a profit on these lines of business.

Base line expenses for social media monitoring and SEO monitoring were running at a base line of about $100 each and that was just with one user account, me! And I wasn’t scalable.

Working in a half dozen client systems every day becomes an obstacle for working regularly in my own systems.

Epiphany – I needed fewer systems!

There were many other tools and systems I was using to automate things. A great deal of that automation was a one and done. I set it up and forget about it, and that was perfect.  It let me focus on what was left. It let me do the things that couldn’t yet be automated.

The delegation side of this was working better too. I was able to delegate many things to admin assistants. Although, I did discover that I needed to keep their focus on the client work too, and not so much pushing them into my own systems.

I was better at delegating tasks that served clients, not so much at things that kept things running in my own business. I was also not very good at delegating things to business partners.

Some things I needed…

  • a single system for my business, something I could work with my entire business when I was there.
  • a system that my assistants and partners could interface with, take assignments & report back
  • simplified expenses for all of these things
  • a base line expense that didn’t break the bank and could be scaled up to others (when I wasn’t scalable) and maybe down again a bit during shifts in projects.

Ideally, I needed to be able to grow to a new level with a new critical mass of projects.

Along the way I worked with clients using Zoho (famous for their CRM, but they have a massive suite of services) and Infusionsoft (a competitor, not as old as Zoho and imo a less developed suite of services.) I also worked for a Zoho Partner. I was brought in to design and build Zoho services for medium to large clients. Clients several levels larger than the projects I’d landed in the last couple years, more in line with my experience in accounting and business systems in years past.

All of this helped me see the potential of Zoho’s suite of services and how I could use it in my own business, if I just had the time to set it up.

One other sticking point – tracking communications, deliverables and invoices

Freshbooks was not growing well for me anymore. They made a massive user interface upgrade. It was prettier and sexier and more streamlined. I upgraded earlyish and had to roll back. The new upgrade did not have all the things the old Freshbooks had.

I tried again about 5 months later. It was still not pretty but I got through it. I was sending them bug requests every week, numbers weren’t adding up here and there and they fixed a lot of things.

They were responsive but the new Freshbooks just didn’t feel ready for prime time.

The old freshbooks had a big flaw as well, email communications and tracking.

Freshbooks sends email from their system to whomever I tell them to send an invoice to, and sometimes those invoices were not getting paid.

So what was it?

  • Were clients not paying for all the reasons that sometimes come up?
  • Were clients not getting the invoices and didn’t know they needed to pay?
  • Was it something else?

I didn’t know. I still do not know and that was the problem.

I worked as an accountant and specifically worked in credit and receivables for a fortune 100 company, Motorola at the height of their business. I learned that when it comes to invoices, it doesn’t matter if you are right, it only matters if you can prove and convince someone that you are right.

Your clients need to trust your invoices, trust the accuracy of the invoices and they have to be trained to process those invoices, expeditiously if possible.

With the Freshbooks upgrade, there were a few gremlins in the system and those were worked out. The invoices and their amounts were trust worthy.

The email system that sent those invoices did not ‘feel trustworthy.’  AND

More importantly, the Freshbooks invoice system could not PROVE that their invoice email delivery system was right.

I couldn’t prove that I had sent invoices that I had sent. I couldn’t troubleshoot and determine whether client’s email services were sending my invoice emails to spam.

It didn’t happen all of the time. It only happened about 20% of the time, and it caused harm to a couple client relationships due to the confusion that ensued and the embarrassment on both end of late/unpaid invoices.

This had been going on in Freshbooks for years and New Freshbooks never touched this problem. It was still there.

I needed the ability to confirm the email delivery was rock solid, all the MX and TXT records needed to be set. I needed the ability to track things like email open rates.

Simply, knowing and tracking that a client had received the email and had or had not opened it could communicate a great deal of information and help prevent a problem from festering.

Zoho Covered All of this

So I started looking at Zoho Books. It offered invoicing and it offered a full range of book keeping. (Freshbooks had grown into other book keeping options, but was still not full service.)

I didn’t want to circle back into Quickbooks again, I needed less than that on bookkeeping and more everywhere else.

Zoho offered some interesting things

  • Zoho Books (Bookkeeping)
  • Zoho Bookings
  • Zoho Calendar
  • Project management tools
  • Social Media scheduling and social media (conversation) management
  • Zoho CRM
  • Zoho Meetings

And they offered all of this through a bundle of services called Zoho One.

Now the pricing for Zoho One is a little (weird) 🙂

It starts at $90 / month / user or $35 / month / employee

They have discounts for paying a year at a time too.

So you are probably thinking, why would I pay $90 per month when I could pay $35?

You might also be wondering, how can they afford to sell all those services (and many many more I did not list) for just $35 / month?

Well that $35 / month / employee requires that you buy a license for a minimum of 5 employees (the ‘All employees’ verbiage is confusing.

So the idea would be that you might have 10 employees and get all of them going on it, paying $35 x 10 / month ($350).

So where does a smaller agency fit into that pricing?

That’s my next/current question.   Paul Nicholson makes a great point in that the price break really kicks in if you have 2 or more employees (5×35=$175 vs 2 x90=$180)

I suspect I ‘m probably going to pay the $90 / month / user. They call this the Flexible User plan. I hire assistants on a 1099 basis and also hire partners the same(and they hire me depending on who is running a project or sourced it).

A Flexible user plan could allow me to scale up or down easier while keeping my core business running for a flat $90 per month. or maybe I can simply switch to the other plan. (new question to research!)

Right now with Calendly, Zoom, Freshbooks, Raven (on and off), Coschedule(mostly off but I miss it), Zoom Webinar(saving up webinar ideas to buy it for a month maybe), and a bunch of other systems, I’m paying $265 per month for all of these services, and sometimes cutting them back or renewing and that’s time and hassle.

What’s more when I do not have them running, then I’m potentially missing deals, not bringing in more business (webinars) and not offering up teasers to show new clients the benefits of social media management or SEO management. (Zoho has an SEO service as well, but I haven’t explored it yet.)

So $90 a month seems like a bargain AND

All those Zoho services integrate and work together!

I can create a service offering on my site, connect it to a lead form in Zoho, share it out via social media via Zoho, live chat with visitors on that page via zoho, develop them as a lead, draft an estimate, create a project, close the deal and take a retainer, track time and bill, I can run meetings and webinars too through Zoho Meetings, I can replace the calendly links with zoho booking links and provide free meetings, or paid assessments and coaching that can be hired/checked out via my website. I can channel help requests from existing and new clients through Zoho Desk’s ticketing system. I can get metrics on all of this and figure out where I need to make improvements, or where I might grow next.

I get one system (caveat coming) where  can see and work on all of this, and keep on top of my own business without taking time away from the work I need to do in my client’s business systems.

Oh and they have an app too. A lot of this I can do from an app on my smart phone.

There’s a caveat, the CRM and Book keeping systems are two of the big ones and I can manage most of what I need from there. Lots of those other services can be connected (integrated), but they are in different tabs and screens and for some reason Zoho likes to Open up a new tab window like its 1999 still.

But I can work with that, its a start and I have only scratched the surface. They offer tools for diagraming and creating custom solutions and automations with all of this. I’m not limited by what their software developers have created, I can go create it myself, and I have.

So that’s where I am on this journey. Its mid November and I’m racing to get this setup during my 30day free trial, and pay my first bill to keep it going. I’m hoping for a bookkeeping switch over before year end to make doing taxes next year, soooo much easier.

Would love to hear about your experiences with automation and managing and growing your business or agency and any wisdom or cool lessons learned from working with Zoho recently.
I’m hoping to make it to their Zoholics conference one of these days and become a Zoho Partner myself.(in progress)

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